More than a third of the nation’s commercial nuclear power reactorsoperate here in the Great Lakes Region (6 in NY, 9 in PA, 2 in OH, 4 inMI, 11 in IL, 3 in WI, 3 in MN). The high-level radioactive waste theseplants produce is currently being held on-site at each facility, whileefforts to find safe long-term storage continue. The Great Lakes RadioConsortium’s Mark Brush reports on new research that points toward apotential storage solution:
More than a third of the nation’s commercial nuclear power reactors
operate here in the Great Lakes Region (6 in NY, 9 in PA, 2 in OH, 4 in
MI, 11 in IL, 3 in WI, 3 in MN). The high-level radioactive waste these
plants produce is currently being held on-site at each facility, while
efforts to find safe long term storage continue. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Mark Brush reports on new research that points toward a
potential storage solution.
Radioactive waste is highly active. Particles continue to bombard the
container it’s held in until the radiation essentially changes the
physical structure of the container. That then causes the container to
distort, decay or simply crack.
And that’s a problem for dangerous waste that has a half-life of more
than a thousand years.
However, scientists recently discovered a new ceramic material that
appears to stand up to radioactive waste’s unruly behavior. Lisa
Minervilli is with the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
“We found that these materials have very high radiation tolerance… By
immobilizing the radioactive species in these crystal structures you
would have possibly a longer term, more stable, more durable waste
Researchers say the material’s ability to hold up to radiation is
proven. What’s left to test is how the material will hold up to the
natural elements and time. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m
Many people think pollution is as inevitable as death and taxes. ButGreat Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Peter Montague tells us that anew philosophy of environmental protection has sprung up around theGreat Lakes:
Many people think pollution is as inevitable as death and taxes. But Great Lakes Radio
Consortium commentator Peter Montague (MON-ta-gew) tells us that a new philosophy of
environmental protection has sprung up around the Great Lakes.
To me, one of the most important measures of human health is the rising rate of cancer
in young children. Young children aren’t exposed to the major causes of cancer — they don’t
smoke tobacco; they don’t breathe toxic chemicals on the job, and their lives aren’t subject
to great stress.
Children’s lives today aren’t much different from the lives of children 50 years ago —
and yet there’s a lot more cancer in children today than there was 50 years ago. What this means
is that there’s something in the environment causing cancer in children — something in the air,
the water, the soil, the food. This is a bad sign, and it’s happening in every industrialized
The good news is that a small government agency located on the Great Lakes is trying to do
something about the situation. It is called the International Joint Commission, or IJC. Fifteen
years ago, scientists working for the IJC became convinced that Great Lakes pollution was making
people sick, and the IJC began to develop a new philosophy of environmental protection.
To me, this new philosophy is one of the most exciting developments of the 20th century.
The first principle is that persistent toxic chemicals should be eliminated from the
ecosystem. The IJC said the proper philosophy is “Zero discharge.” If a chemical is toxic and
persistent, then the only acceptable amount to discharge into the environment is zero.
The second principle is called reverse onus, or “reversing the burden of proof.” As things
stand today, the burden of proof is on the public to show that industrial pollution is harmful.
The IJC says the burden should be shifted onto industrial polluters: before they are allowed to
dump anything into the Great Lakes– or anywhere else — they should have to show that they are
not going to harm wildlife or humans.
And lastly, the IJC recommends a precautionary approach: if you have reason to believe
that what you’re doing is harmful, you should stop doing it even before you’ve got scientific
proof of harm.
Together these 3 principles add up to something entirely new. As you might imagine,
industrial polluters think the IJC was sent here by the devil, so the IJC needs all the help it
can get from the public.
To get involved, check out their web site: www.ijc.org
HOST TAG: Peter Montague is the editor of Rachel’s Environment & Health News,
which is available free on-line at www.rachel.org
Preventing environmental problems and preventing cancer have never been mainstream ideas. Traditionally, government agencies have created programs to manage environmental problems and to try to cure cancer. But as Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Peter Montague tells us, the philosophy of prevention is beginning to catch on:
Preventing environmental problems and preventing cancer have never been mainstream
ideas. Traditionally, government agencies have created programs to manage environmental problems
and to try to cure cancer. But as Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Peter Montague
tells us, the philosophy of prevention is beginning to catch on.
With all the fuss that’s being made about human genes these days, it is good to remember
that most cancer is not caused by our genes. In other words, most cancers are not inherited
from our parents. A recent medical study of 44,000 twins re-affirmed that most cancers are
caused by exposure to environmental factors. This is good news, because it means that most
cancers can be prevented, by preventing exposure to cancer-causing agents.
This cancer prevention philosophy is new. The U.S. has spent billions of dollars trying
to find a cure for cancer, but very little trying to prevent it it. Now cancer prevention is
beginning to be taken seriously, and a leader in cancer prevention has focused its work
on the Great Lakes. I’m talking about a small government agency called the International
Joint Commission, or IJC, which focuses on water quality in the Great Lakes. For the past
decade, the IJC has been preaching the virtues of keeping cancer-causing chemicals out of the
Lakes. In fact, the IJC is now recommending that we keep all persistent toxic chemicals out of
the Lakes. The IJC says we must eliminate persistent toxic chemicals because once we create them,
there’s no safe way to manage them — they get loose and come back to bite us, or give us cancer.
In 1992 the IJC said we must “recognize that all persistent toxic substances are dangerous
to the environment, deleterious to the human condition, and can no longer be tolerated in the
In other words, instead of trying to decide how much pollution is safe to allow in our
water or on our cornflakes, the IJC says we should take a preventive approach — we should
eliminate toxic substances.
And you know what? Preventing pollution can pay off in more ways than one: as we prevent
cancer, there will be a lot of new jobs created as people develop non-toxic products to replace
all the toxic chemicals we now use. No doubt about it, cancer prevention is a good policy —
good for public health and good for the economy.
HOST TAG: Peter Montague is the editor of Rachel’s Environment & Health Weekly, which is
available free on-line at www.rachel.org
The controversy surrounding genetically modified crops is heating uponce again with the release of a new study critical of Bt corn. TheGreat Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dale Willman reports:
The controversy surrounding genetically modified crops is heating up once again with the release
of a new study critical of Bt corn. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dale Willman reports.
Bt is a naturally occurring insecticide that has been genetically placed into certain strains
of corn. Researchers at Iowa State University conducted the study. They say it shows the pollen
produced by that corn is deadly to the larvae of monarch butterflies. Professor John Obrycki says
they placed milkweed plants in both Bt and non-Bt corn fields for several days. Then they
counted the pollen on the milkweed leaves and fed the pollen and leaves to monarch larvae in the
“And we observed significantly higher mortality when we
exposed those larvae to the Bt corn pollen, as compared to the
non-Bt corn pollen.”
Critics say the study does not reflect real-world conditions, such as rain that could wash the
pollen away. However, Obrycki says many of the plants they used were exposed to rain and wind,
yet the remaining pollen was still enough to kill the larvae. The study meanwhile is of
particular importance to farmers in the Great Lakes region, where a significant amount of the
corn grown is of the Bt variety.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Dale Willman.
A new study has once again sparked controversy over the use of agenetically modified crop. At issue is Bt corn – a corn grown by manyfarmers in the Great Lakes region – and its effect on the monarchbutterfly. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dale Willman reports:
A new study has once again sparked controversy over the use of a genetically modified crop.
At issue is Bt corn – a corn grown by many farmers in the Great Lakes region – and its effect on
the monarch butterfly. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dale Willman reports.
Bt corn is a corn genetically engineered to contain a naturally occurring insecticide.
The corn accounts for just 19-percent of all corn grown in the country right now – that’s
about one out of every five acres of corn. But its relatively small share of the market hides
its apparently remarkable potential for causing arguments. Especially when it comes in contact
with one of America’s most endearing symbols, the Monarch butterfly.
It was just a year ago that scientists at Cornell University in New York led a study that found
Bt corn to be toxic to the larvae of Monarchs under laboratory conditions. For months, those
results were debated and criticized for not involving a real-world test of the corn. The
scientists were accused of feeding butterfly larvae levels of Bt pollen much higher than those
actually found in farm fields.
This latest study though has moved the lab a bit closer to the field. Iowa State University
researcher John Obrycki says the two-year project used milkweed plants. They placed those potted
plants out in Bt and non-Bt cornfields.
“And allowed pollen to be naturally deposited on these
milkweed plants. Then we took those leaves, brought them
into the lab, counted the densities, the amount of pollen on
the leaves, then exposed those to monarch larvae.”
And the results, says Obrycki, were startling.
“And we observed significantly higher mortality when we
exposed those larvae to the Bbt corn pollen, as compared to the non-Bt corn pollen.”
In fact, about 20-percent of the larvae eating the Bt leaves died from the insecticide, while
almost all the larvae that ate the non-Bt leaves stayed alive. This is troubling, says Obrycki,
because milkweed plants are the only thing the Monarch larvae will eat. And milkweed plants are
often found within, and around, cornfields. So the Monarchs attracted to those plants near Bt
corn could face a much greater risk. Val Giddings is a Vice President at the Biotechnology
Industry Association, a Washington-based trade group for biotech companies. He says it’s true
that some strains of Bt corn, under the right conditions, could indeed kill Monarchs.
“I’m willing to concede that, you know, what they have found,
that pollen of this particular variety, if monarch larvae are
exposed, would have some probability of a negative impact.”
However, the devil he says is in the details. He says the actual amount of exposure the larvae
might get to Bt corn pollen is slight.
“The amount of time that corn pollen is present overlaps with
only a very small fraction of the amount of time that
monarch larvae are present, so most monarch larvae are unlikely ever to encounter any corn
pollen in the field.”
And Giddings says the alternative to Bt corn could be much worse. Right now, he says Bt is one
of just two options available to farmers to control corn-boring caterpillars. That pest causes
an estimated one billion dollars worth of crop damage each year. The other option is the spraying
of broad-spectrum pesticides, which are quite effective against the caterpillars. But the
pesticides have some major drawbacks not found in Bt corn.
The results of the study, if confirmed by other scientists, could be especially significant for
Midwestern farmers and butterfly lovers. As much as half of the Monarch butterfly population
makes its way across the Midwest during its annual migration.
Even the study’s co-author says this is not the last word on Bt corn. John Obrycki says more
studies must be done before the full effects of this transgenic crop are understood.
In the meantime, the fight against Bt corn will continue. Environmentalists say it’s simply the
latest battle in a larger war against all bioengineered crops.
For the Great Lakes radio Consortium, I’m Dale Willman.
Great Lakes scientists have now identified a foreign insect thatthreatens to cause major damage to the region’s soybean crops. Itapparently came from China and has so far been found in crops in atleast four Great Lakes states. The insect is causing concern amongscientists in the region, where more than 40 percent of the nation’ssoybeans are grown. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Jo Wagnerreports:
Great Lakes scientists have now identified a foreign insect that threatens to cause major
damage to the region’s soybean crops. It apparently came from China and has so far been found
in crops in at least four Great Lakes states. The insect is causing concern among scientists
in the region, where more than 40-percent of the nation’s soybeans are grown. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Mary Jo Wagner reports.
The soybean aphid, which is native to China, has been a big problem for that
country’s crops. But until now it had not been seen in the United States.
University of Wisconsin scientists first discovered the pin-head sized aphid
sucking on soybean leaves in university test plots this spring…then
farmers started calling in with questions about what was causing their
soybean leaves to crinkle and turn yellow. University entomologist John
Wedberg says the aphids were so thick in some Wisconsin fields where
students were working, their legs would be covered by a sticky substance
researchers call “honey dew”. It’s a waste product excreted by the aphids.
Wedberg says the pest probably got into the country on some type of
“We’re convinced it didn’t come in on soybean seeds or something of that nature. And
to have the infestation we have over most of southern Wisconsin, and now we find southern
Michigan, northern Illinois and perhaps a little bit in southern Minnesota, it had to have been
here more than a year.”
Wedberg says the aphid doesn’t destroy the plant but it can hurt the
plant’s yield. A crop consultant in southern Wisconsin has seen the aphid
damage firsthand while walking through soybean fields.
“I’m very worried about this aphid”
Paul Haag says that’s because there are no pesticides right now designed
specifically to kill the soybean aphid – the ones farmers are using appear
to kill many, but not all of the pests. However, the chemicals are expensive
and they can also kill potential natural predators that may prey on the
bug. The good news is there are some natural predators at work right
now. One is a fungal disease that resides in the soil. Researchers have
found that when the weather is hot and humid, it destroys aphids. Another
enemy of the aphid is the ladybug. Haag says in some unsprayed spots there
is a “mini-war” going on between the ladybugs, the fungal predator and the
“We had thousands and thousands of ladybugs out in the fields – as the numbers went up, the
ladybug population came up behind them. The predators were trying, they just couldn’t keep up.”
Haag says the extent of the crop loss won’t be known until harvest time
this fall. Meanwhile, there’s concern about the extent of the problem
next year. That’s because the aphid produces wings during a portion of its
life cycle and could fly to uninfested locations where it would survive
winter by latching onto woody plants like the buckthorn.
That’s not good news for farmers, struggling to pay bills with record low
prices caused by a glut of soybeans around the world. If the aphid reduces
their soybean yield, the government guaranteed cash payment, that’s
available when prices are low, will be cut back.
A spokesperson for the American Soybean Association in St. Louis says from
what he’s heard, concern about the soybean aphid’s potential to hurt the
soybean supply is exaggerated. Instead, Paul Callinan says it’s a regional
problem, like a flood or severe dry weather. He says any yield loss in the
northern bean belt would not have a major effect on the huge soybean
crop expected this fall.
“Producers in the United States and in South America during the last 2 or 3 years have
produced bumper crops…they’ve had good weather…and although soy demand has continued to grow
during this period, the production supply has exceeded the demand in each of the last 3 years.”
In fact Callinan says his organization wants the government to give a
billion dollars worth of soybeans to foreign food aid programs.
Still scientists are worried about damage the soybean aphid could cause in
the future since the U.S. produces half these world’s crop of soybeans.
Wisconsin entomologist Wedberg says the U.S. Department of Agriculture
has given up any plans to quarantine or destroy fields because the aphid has
spread so far. And he says efforts to find other means to control the aphid
have been slowed because its natural home is China – so all the research
conducted on the pest so far is written in Chinese.
For the great lakes radio consortium, I’m Mary Jo Wagner.
Visitors to the Nature Museum learn about the relationships between nature and humans. This exhibit shows how Lake Michigan water is used for transportation and for consumption.
The Nature Museum is operated by
the Chicago Academy of Sciences. Academy President Emeritus Paul Heltne
says the recently opened museum is still in its shakedown. More exhibits
are to be installed.
A recently opened museum almost exclusively studies the environment ofthe Midwest and Great Lakes regions. It looks at how nature and humansinteract. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
A recently opened museum almost exclusively studies the environment of
the Midwest and Great Lakes Regions. It looks at how nature and humans
interact. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
“Hi there! Welcome to the Lake Michigan environment. There’s a lot
to see here, so let me help you get started. Anytime you see something you’re interested in,
just go ahead and click on it.”
This computer program outlines the complexities of pollution and using
water from the lake. It’s part of one of the first exhibits a visitor will likely wander
into at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago.
“Many different things affect how healthy and clean our lake is.
From the cities that produce tremendous quantities of waste right here in our
backyards… to the clouds that bring particles from all over the globe.”
This is part of the water exhibit. It’s a good example of the approach the
museum takes. Lots of information… lots of hands on experiences. Those
visitors who aren’t clicking the mouse at the computer display are
splashing their hands in the water of the miniature Michigan lakefront.
(Sound of water trickle)
The Chicago skyline towers over the display… but the real attraction here
is cranking the locks open and closed allowing Lake Michigan water to
flow into the Chicago River, or to control rainstorms on the model. It’s a
lesson in hydraulics, and water resources.
Doug Taron is the museum’s curator of biology. He leads us a little further
down the wet workings of the miniature waterway.
“As we progress down the river model, the first few parts of it
explain some issues about Lake Michigan and the Chicago River so-” LG: Now,
you just pulled a lever. What did you do? “I just pulled a lever. We are
about to start a rainstorm here and it’s showing some of the things that
come off of different areas, different types of land use around the river.”
Like livestock runoff, runoff off of parking lots, construction sites.
“Right, runoff from a construction site. And then, at the end we’ve got a
more natural landscape that absorbs more of the water and doesn’t have
obnoxious things coming into the river.”
As the river model progresses it begins to teem with life… real water
beetles… lots of native vegetation… snails and other critters.
Nearby a sand and water exhibit shows how building canals and dikes
affect natural waterways. One of the nature museum’s smaller visitors, Mary
Clare Coleman was willing to tell us how she’s handling the material.
“I’m kind of putting the sand up here and making like a little
river. And then I’m making a lake right here.”
Mary Clare’s friend, Janine Wilke, took time to explain the exhibit’s
“It’s about water and how it works. And this part you can make your
own river and your own lake with just some neat tools.”
The young visitors we talked to say there’s lots of neat stuff at the
nature museum including a butterfly haven, a real laboratory, and the
natural surroundings, including a few acres of native plants in the heart of
This museum is the public outreach of the Chicago academy of sciences. The
Academy has operated a museum in Chicago since the middle of the 19th
century. This latest incarnation is less than a year old.
The new structure sits between a huge feat of nature, Lake Michigan, and a
huge feat of man, downtown Chicago. Just outside the building, sitting on a
patio Paul Heltne is surveying the view. Heltne is president emeritus of the
Chicago Academy of Sciences. From where we’re sitting we can see shallow
pond behind the nature museum… and a slope that surrounds the building.
“This gentle rise is, in fact, the fore-dune of Lake Michigan. Now, the idea
of the beach, the foredune, and wetland, all of that just came together and
said ‘This is the place for this museum that wants to focus on the Midwest
and the Great Lakes and the human / nature interaction.”
This site is one of the last Lake Michigan dunes visible in the city, the
rest were leveled to make way for highways and skyscrapers. On the
dune the museum has planted native grasses, trees, and shrubs to give people an idea of
what Chicago’s natural beginnings looked like.
The Academy didn’t plan to build its museum here originally. But the
Chicago Park District suggested the site to the group when the academy was
looking at another place. At the time… the park district only had a maintenance
shed and equipment stored at the high profile site preventing development, which in the end was a blessing because it preserved the dune.
Like the change in sites the nature museum is adjusting its exhibits. The
museum is not complete. In fact, some exhibit space is empty, waiting for
funding. Paul Heltne says the academy was ambitious with the nature
museum and it will take a while to mature.
“The execution is still in its shakedown phase and I expect will be
in its shakedown phase. We tried to do some things that are pretty new and
But Heltne says the nature museum’s concentration on the Midwest and
Great Lakes gives it a chance to explore issues in much greater depth, something
he believes will allow the museum to constantly change and evolve with
the region. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Lester Graham.
Health officials and pet owners in some of the western Great Lakesstates can breathe a little easier these days. That’s because Ohio hasfound a way to block an outbreak of rabies carried by raccoons, andspreading from the East. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Cohenreports from Ohio:
Health officials and pet owners in (IN, IL, MI, MN, WI or some of the western Great Lakes states) can breathe a little easier these days. That’s because Ohio has found a way to block an outbreak of rabies, carried by raccoons, and spreading from the East. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Bill Cohen reports from Ohio.
It began in New York, then hit Pennsylvania, and then crept over the border into Ohio. But health officials report the yearly number of raccoon rabies cases here has now dwindled – 59 cases were the peak. But last year, there were only 5 cases, and so far this year – none.
Key to this rabies blockade are millions of fishmeal biscuits, laced with a rabies vaccine…and dropped from helicopters and cars.
Healthy raccoons are gobbling them up and making themselves invincible when they’re bitten by infected raccoons. Kathleen Smith is Ohio’s official veterinarian.
“Hopefully if we can get enough of the population of raccoons immunized, the disease then goes ahead and dies out.”
To be sure the westward spread of rabies has been blocked, Ohio plans to spend 1.6 million dollars this year for even more vaccine. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Bill Cohen in Columbus.
The ITER (pronounced ‘eater’) project is an international plan to buildthe world’s first fusion reactor. One of the preferred sites is in theGreat Lakes basin – an area already saturated with nuclear facilities,waste sites and reactors. Proponents of the ITER project believe thatelectricity generated by fusion could be the long-term energy solutionfor the world. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne Elstonbelieves that we shouldn’t rule out other options:
The ITER (pronounced ‘eater’) project is an international plan to
build the world’s first fusion reactor. One of the preferred sites is
in the Great Lakes basin – an area already saturated with nuclear
facilities, waste sites and reactors. Proponents of the ITER project
believe that electricity generated by fusion could be the long-term
energy solution for the world. Great Lakes Radio Consortium
commentator Suzanne Elston believes that we shouldn’t rule out other
It’s really hard to swim upstream – particularly when every other
fish in the river is going with the flow. The problem started when I
first heard about the ITER project. ITER stands for International
Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor – and my community has suddenly
become the focus of a lot of attention because of it. A group of
international scientists is looking for a location to build the
experimental reactor, and my hometown in on the shortlist. Everyone
from the mayor on down thinks it’s a great idea.
I have to admit, my immediate reaction wasn’t quite so enthusiastic.
The ITER project is fighting forty years of nuclear history. There’s
the unfulfilled promise of power too cheap to meter. And there’s the
growing pile of nuclear waste that we still have figured out how to
But the ITER project is supposed to be different. It burns waste from
nuclear fission plants as a starter fuel for the fusion reactor. In
theory, once a reaction is achieved, only lithium and hydrogen should
be required to sustain it. If it works, fusion could be the ultimate
renewable energy source.
It sounds promising. And it’s also a long way off. Even the most
optimistic predictions say that commercially available fusion power
is probably 50 years away. We don’t have 50 years.
However, I think the bigger question becomes do we really want to tie
ourselves to yet another mega-source of electricity? Nuclear power,
large hydroelectric dams and coal-fired generation all have a couple
of things in common. They cost lots of money to build and they need
distribution networks to deliver. Fusion would be no different.
So instead of putting all our eggs in one energy basket, why not give
everyone their own basket? Let them create their own energy.
Experiments in fuel cell technology, for example, are showing
promising results. Test cars are already using small fuel cell power
plants. And the only by-product is water.
By simply installing a small fuel cell in the basement, every house
in the neighborhood could be energy self-sufficient. And fuel cells
aren’t the only technology that offer us this kind of freedom.
Imagine what this could mean. Goodbye grid. So-long overhead wires.
Goodbye to the fear of cancer from electromagnetic radiation.
Farewell to smog from coal plants and see-you-later radioactive
waste. Now that’s where we should be investing our money and our best
To survive, quail need diverse habitat which includes native grasses, the edge of woodlands, and small grains. Hunters hope to persuade more landowners to manage some of their land as quail habitat.
Quail hunters are lobbying Congress in support of the conservationprograms currently proposed for the 2002 Farm Bill. They say theprograms will help with the bird’s survival. The Great Lakes RadioConsortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Quail hunters are lobbying congress in support of the conservation
programs currently proposed for the 2002 farm bill. They say the programs will help with the bird’s survival. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham
Quail Unlimited has high hopes for the farm bill. The proposal would
expand the conservation reserve program. Dave Howell is the director of ag
wildlife services for the group. He says as farming practices have changed the
need for land set aside for conservation has increased.
“Our land ownership pattern of 40 – 50 years ago was very conducive
to the bobwhite quail. As we’ve advanced in modern times here, the farm
size has gotten larger, you know, there aren’t as many fence rows. And so,
we’ve seen a lot of changes and unfortunately, you know, that has not always
favored bobwhite quail.”
The group says once marginal land is taken out of crop production. The
group’s work is not finished. It still needs to persuade landowners to manage the land to meet the habitat needs of quail. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Lester Graham.